Don't overlook the SE-R, especially at its current price.
The affordable sporty sedan market has been relatively consistent over the past decade with a strong demand for practical enthusiast cars on a budget. Cars like the Honda Civic Si and Volkswagen Jetta GLI have been preeminent players in this segment for decades while newer entrants like the Hyundai Elantra Sport and Kia Forte GT look to steal sales from the established competitive set.
Buyers have plenty of fun, sporty sedans to choose from in 2019 but one notable player no longer competes in this category - Nissan. The Sentra SE-R was once the company's sporty compact sedan but it has been absent from the lineup since 2012. Used ones are now a great bargain and would make an excellent first car for an enthusiast.
The SE-R name, which stands for Special Edition Racing, first appeared back in 1991 on the B13 generation Sentra. It was used again on the B14 and B15 models before being used one last time on the B16 from 2007 to 2012. It was replaced by a turbocharged Sentra Nismo model for the B17 generation.
Original Sentra SE-R models are difficult to come by because no one ever thought they might be valuable or rare in the future. And since most of the older SE-R variants are starting to age far beyond what the average car owner would tolerate, we wanted to talk about the final B16 model as a potential first car. The B16 never won many head-to-head competitions with the Civic Si but at its current price, the Sentra has a chance to redeem itself.
The SE-R was the highest priced Sentra model at the time, comparable to a Civic Si or Jetta GLI. In 2007, the SE-R carried a starting price of $20,515, which was around $2,000 less than the Civic Si. Today, even low-mileage examples are priced at under $10,000 with the high-mileage examples available for under $5,000. There will be no CPO warranties available anymore but at this price point, these are likely to be purchased by 17-year-olds looking for their first sporty car.
Nissan sold two versions of the SE-R - a base model and the Spec V. Both received upgrades such as four-wheel disc brakes, 17-inch wheels, specially tuned suspension, and two additional gauges for oil pressure and g-force. Under the hood of the base SE-R, a 2.5-liter QR25DE four-cylinder engine produced 177 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 172 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm. A six-speed manual came standard but a CVT with wheel-mounted paddle shifters was also available. 0-60 mph with the manual took a reasonable 7.4 seconds.
The Spec-V upped the output to 200 hp at 6,600 rpm and 180 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm on premium fuel. It was also equipped with a limited-slip differential, higher engine compression, larger front rotors, and unique suspension with lower ride height, sport-tuned shocks and struts, reinforced upper cowl, trunk-mounted V-brace, and a larger front stabilizer bar. The SE-R Spec-V was also quicker to 60 mph at just 6.7 seconds.
The interior is exactly what you'd expect from a mid-2000s economy car - nothing special. The SE-R models benefited from unique touches such as sport bucket front seats with SE-R stitching, unique seat fabrics, red seat belts on the Spec-V, aluminum pedal, leather-appointed steering wheel and shift knob, and additional gauges.
As for music, a six-speaker audio system came as standard with a 40-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system available as an option. All of the speakers are tied to a basic radio with an aux jack, so the Sentra is at least capable of plugging into a modern smartphone for music. Push-button start was also available, but that's about it for the modern amenities.
The Sentra is classified as a compact car, so it isn't massive. Rear seat occupants are treated to a decent 34.5 inches of legroom while the trunk opens up to reveal 13.1 cubic feet of storage. Even over a decade ago, the SE-R with the CVT transmission was more efficient at 24/30/26 mpg city/highway/combined while the manual model was rated at 21/29/24. The SE-R won't cause you misery at the pumps but it pales in comparison to modern performance sedans in this segment.
The Nissan Sentra SE-R is not remembered as the best-driving sedan of its era. It was overshadowed by the Civic Si at the time, but that doesn't mean the SE-R was a poor performer. Now that these cars have had time to come down in price, they represent tremendous value for money and are worthy of consideration. 200 hp, a manual transmission, sporty styling, and a price tag of $5,000 to $10,000 sounds like the perfect ingredients for an enthusiast's first car.